Take a trip to the magical world of fungi
By Muraco, PhD
There are more than 200 species of psychoactive fungi on the planet. That’s a lot of different ways to trip. In reality, though, most heads will only come across a few varieties if they’re lucky. If you are, however, truly resourceful, you may explore the world of magic mushrooms without boundary.
Psychoactive fungi divide into three groups: 1) the ergot fungi (includes 7 species), 2) ibotenic acid-containing fungi (more than 20 species of Amanitas), and 3) psilocybin-containing fungi (approximately 186 species from the genus Psilocybe, Panaeolus, Copelandia, etc. or the real “magic mushrooms”).
Ergot fungi Claviceps purpurea growing on wheat.
The best-known member of the ergot fungi family is Claviceps purpurea. It is a parasite fungus that grows on the world’s grasses, occurring globally. Its place in entheogen history is set as it was involved in the production of kykeon by the ancient Greeks (known as the Eleusis mystery) as well as being an additive to the narcotic Soma of the ancient Vedic of the Indian subcontinent. Today, wise shamans avoid self-experimentation with the actual fungi. Nonetheless, modern juggernauts continue to enjoy the products of Claviceps purpurea chemistry. Albert Hofmann used the alkaloids of ergot—Claviceps purpurea—in his initial production of LSD.
Amanita muscaria is the best-known psychoactive within the Amanitas group, although a number of these shrooms contain the neurotropics ibotenic acid and muscimol and thus are also active. While definitely useful as an entheogen, it is important to remember that some members of the Amanita family can kill a person with a single bite. Many folks disdain the Amanita trip as heavily somatic (physically uncomfortable) and with more than a touch of delirium. Most imbibers avoid it preferring the real “magic mushrooms” journey.
Coined by the editor of Life Magazine in 1957, “magic mushrooms” refers to mushrooms of the genus Psilocybe. Psilocybe is Greek for “bare headed” and by extension a nickname for one’s phallus—an association made clear by anyone who has seen photos of slightly immature shrooms. Currently there are 18 species in Canada and the United States. Since psilocybin and psilocin are scheduled compounds, magic mushrooms are illegal in the United States as containers of these illegal substances. For an alternative vacation destination consider southern Mexico where a whopping 44 species of psilocybin mushrooms can be found. And while Psilocybes are illegal in Mexico, the government seems to have little interest in them.
Fifty years ago there were a total of only twenty known psychoactive fungi species, as most of the world’s Psilocybe mushrooms were as yet undiscovered. Today there are more than 200 known species. The ethno-mycologist Jochen Gartz has noted that psychoactive mushrooms seem to “occur in abundance wherever mycologists abound.” Basically, whenever mycologists study materials and collected samples from any region, they find new species. Given the fact that new psychoactive fungi are continually being discovered it is certain there must be as yet undiscovered species. Magic mushrooms are rather prolific on Mother Earth and are located on every continent on the globe. There is even a Psilocybe mushroom in the Antarctica.
Breaking down the chemistry
All the active Psilocybe mushrooms contain amounts of the same four psychoactive substances—psilocybin, psilocin, baeocystin and norbaeocystin—in addition to lesser amounts of other possibly psychoactive compounds. For the chemists among us, it should be noted that these four compounds are structurally related to each other. They are part of the psychedelic tryptamine family, bearing close resemblance to the neurotransmitter serotonin. The serotonin affinity explains the psilocybes’ trippy nature. Baeocystin and norbaeocystin are psilocybin without one and two methyl groups.
The amounts, percentages and proportions of these four integral psychedelic substances vary from species to species and also among the different strains within the same species. The proportions of these compounds may affect the qualitative essence of the journey although this has not been proven. It is also possible that the other minor psychoactive compounds found in these mushrooms might modulate the effect of the other psychoactive substances found.
Some studies have shown that P. azurescens is the magic mushroom with the highest concentration of psilocybin/psilocin while other studies have suggested any of the following species might be the strongest: P. bohemica, P. semilanceata, P. baeocystis, P. cyanescens, P. tampanensis or P. cubensis. Within any species there can be a tenfold range in psilocybin and psilocin content. P. cubensis has been widely propagated in commercialized venues and there is evidence that this strain is gaining in strength. The psychoactive content of magic shrooms cultivated indoors seems to be stronger than the field-collected variety.
Magic mushrooms are the perfect entheogen in many ways. Perception can be magnified a thousandfold so have a clear mindset before you munch. Be hungry but remember you will be taking what gives.
Magic mushrooms are the perfect entheogen in many ways. Perception can be magnified a thousandfold so have a clear mindset before you munch. Be hungry but remember you will be taking what gives. Those without a purposeful mindset who chose a safe place for imbibing will more than likely get the experience they want. Be aware also that mushrooms—indeed all psychedelics—are not for the mentally unsound, as they can precipitate instability and breaks from reality. Be respectful of what the goddess wants to show you.
The most commonly used magic mushrooms are: P. azurescens, P. baeocystis, P. caerulescens, P. cubensis, P. Mexicana, P. pelliculosa, P. semilanceta, P. stuntzii, Panaeolus subbalteatus and Copelandia cyanescens. In truth, the different kinds of magic mushrooms may be a moot point, as most people will never get to try more than P. cubensis. P. cubensis is not necessarily the most potent but it is the easiest to grow.
As the exact alkaloid content can vary greatly from species to species as well as having great variety among individuals of the same species, determining just how many mushrooms to take can be tricky. Start out with a small modest dose—one or two mushrooms. Between 4 and 8 mg of psilocybin is needed per person to get off nicely. Get ready to sit back, sink into Gaia and enjoy vivid involuntary memory, religious exaltation, or ecstatic delirium.
The big four plus one honourable mention
Cubies: Psilocybe cubensis
P. cubensis, aka Stropharia cubensis, is the most commonly grown and consumed magic mushroom due to its ease of cultivation and performance as a solid producer. Native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, it can also now be found growing in other places such as the American Gulf Coast. Cubies have a lovely cap ranging from reddish cinnamon brown to radiate golden yellow in colour. The cap is 1.5 to 8 cm broad and stands 40 to 150 cm high. It bruises blue and thrives in cattle dung. Of all the magic mushrooms, this is the only one easily cultivated.
Liberty Cap mushrooms: Psilocybe semilanceata
P. semilanceata is found worldwide and is the proverbial favourite of the Pacific Northwest—possibly because of its relative ease of identification. It is known as the “Liberty Cap” mushroom and is fairly common to spot in cow pastures. The P. semilanceata is a small shroom with a 0.5 to 2.5 cm cap that stands 0.4 to 1.2 cm tall. Its cap is extremely conical in shape, translucent dark chestnut to light tan in colour and viscid. The Liberty Cap can vary widely in strength—some studies have identified it as super strong, whereas many of us who harvest this species regularly find it very modest in strength. This has led scientists to conclude that there must be several distinct varieties of P. semilanceata, although this has not yet been proven.
Wavy Caps: Psilocybe cyanescens
P. cyanescens is also native to the Pacific Northwest and nicknamed “Wavy Caps” due to its undulating cap shape. This species can be easily misidentified with other deadly (Galerina) mushrooms. A fairly strong and visionary shroom—and this shaman’s personal favourite—it has a chestnut brown cap (2 to 4 cm broad) becoming more caramel coloured with age. This little shroom occurs in areas enriched with woody debris. Apparently it has an affinity for the commercialized wood chips that are sold on the West Coast for mulching urban gardens. In Seattle, in the late fall, when the rains begin this psychoactive delight can be located in assorted city lawns and gardens to the great joy of local enthusiasts.
Highly potent Psilocybe azurescens
P. azurescens is a highly potent—perhaps the most potent—species of magic mushroom. Also native to the Pacific Northwest, more prolific in Oregon than Washington, this shroom has become quite popular in outdoor cultivation and so its range is fortunately expanding. This mushroom stands 9 to 20 cm tall and has a chestnut brown to caramel cap measuring 3 to 10 cm broad. Rapid blue bruising occurs where injured. This shroom also prefers the deciduous wood chip environ but also equally thrives in sandy grassland soils. This wonderful entheogen is especially prolific in the Astoria region of the Oregon Coast.
P. baeocystis is another fairly small shroom with a 1 to 5 cm cap that stands 5 to 7 cm tall. It bruises blue particularly easily which aids in its ability to be identified. It grows in similar habitats to P. cyanescens as it also prefers a cultivated landscape. Look for it among the wood chips and rhododendron gardens of the Pacific Northwest.
Remember: never eat a mushroom that you are not 100% sure of its identification. Be aware that a number of Psilocybe shrooms look very similar to other extremely poisonous mushrooms, including Galerinas. This article should therefore only serve as an initial guide for further exploration of magic mushrooms.
Muraco Kyashna-tochá is a cultural anthropologist with over 50 years of experience exploring the nether regions of her mind with entheogens. She is an award-winning educator and a recognized medical cannabis advocate with extensive experience working on medical cannabis legislation in Washington State.
For more from Muraco Kyashna-tochá go to: www.muraco.org
And follow her on Twitter at: @muraco
For more info check out:
Paul Stamets’ guide Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World (1996)
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies www.maps.org